There are two valid ways to gain the chops necessary for writing respectability:
First, go to academia (yes, I actually said that). MFA courses abound, as do creative writing classes and writing workshops. These courses will take your skills up a notch or two, primarily by having you empathize with the reader and by nudging you toward clear, succinct writing. Somewhere in the process, you may see the first gleam of voice and style.
Second, you can strike out on your own: begin writing, see if you can finish a long or short piece adequately, take your writing to ad hoc critique groups and, since six heads can be better than one, let your writer’s chops fall where they may there, and then try to sell it in today's overcrowded marketplace.
But there’s still the issue of what to write. All creative writing types will surely dabble in poetry, long and short fiction, memoir, essay, etc. as they try to gain literary footing. While it’s true that someone like John Updike or Joyce Carol Oates has been successful in many genres and aspects of writing, that’s rarely the case for the rest of us. Which brings me to the reason for this post.
I have a writing associate – president of a writer’s association, in fact – a bright, thoughtful fellow, who has opted to develop his writing skills by the second path mentioned above. His intelligence shines though, of course, in what I’ve read of his published works, but there are, in my critique-prone mind, a few gaps in his skills. Still, this isn't the place to belabor those.
Recently he pushed a new work of his gently toward me – a novella, the first in a planned series of detective novels. As I understand it, he decided to go this route because of marketability – people still read, but longer works are often off-putting to time-deprived readers. Too, detective novels as a series have remained popular throughout the years.
I agree with his marketing acumen, but there are “writerly” reasons why I believe the shorter novels will eventually work for him.
- For a developing writer, there’s a tendency to fill longer pieces with “fluff,” i.e., verbiage that neither advances plot and story nor deepens characterization.
- The shorter form virtually requires that you write tauter dialogue, more resonant narrative.
- The detective novel as a genre has something of an accepted form, so the writer doesn’t have to worry about inventing structure.
- The detective series will allow the writer to develop his characters over the span of a number of novellas. This is red meat for readers, who love nothing more than developing characters in new settings and storylines.
- Once the structure and main characters for such a series have been developed, the writer can stretch his wings by throwing in cultural asides as he develops a sense of style.
Creativity is always looked upon as a personal asset, but it can also be an albatross – it can keep you wandering from style to style, from genre to genre, from form to form. Focused creativity within the bounds of one's limitations – that's the mark of genius - and the ticket to success.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.